German Decision Makers' Beliefs and the Budgetary Deficit Crisis: A Cognitive Mapping Study on Learning from Crisis Experience
MetadataShow full item record
For a long time, the studies of foreign politics, political science and governance have, by large, neglected a cognitive approach to decision making. However, a growing awareness in these research fields has led to the conclusion that more studies should be devoted to unearthing decision makers’ beliefs and their influence on policymaking. This thesis does exactly that. It does so, by examining the budgetary deficit crisis that unleashed its full force in the spring of 2010 in Europe, from a cognitive perspective. With the help of a case study design, the beliefs that underlie the decision making of two high-level German actors – Angela Merkel and Axel Weber – are examined. For they have great influence on Europe’s response to this crisis. Two distinct but interrelated aspects of their belief systems are under inquiry; the stability of their beliefs throughout the crisis and the way in which their belief systems are structured. A large body of literature postulates two rivaling expectations on each of these aspects. The stability of beliefs throughout a crisis is thought to be a matter of ‘all or nothing’; on the one hand crisis is expected to have a ‘catalytic’ effect on belief change and learning, on the other, crisis experience is believed to cause a rigidity in the way people think rather than new insights. The expectations on the structure of belief systems are just as conflicting; some scholars insist that belief systems are structured core-peripheral, while others expect them to be structured hierarchically. Content analysis of Merkel and Weber’s public statements produces the data from which their belief systems are derived. The technique of cognitive mapping and supporting software is used to design visual representations of these belief systems, which are used to test the hypotheses. Counter intuitively, the findings on both of the aspects are self-contradictory. The rivaling expectations on belief change through crisis experience both proved useful in interpreting the empirical data. Where Merkel showed perseverance in her ideas, Weber’s beliefs underwent a radical change. These results are a strong advocate for the use of a cognitive perspective in political science and governance, for they illustrate the subjectivity and context-dependency of learning and belief change. The findings on belief system structure support both the core-peripheral and hierarchical structure propositions. Yet the core-peripheral structure is more accurate in its expectations on belief stability. Overall, this study shows that crisis experience indeed triggers belief change, but in different and contrasting ways. In addition, the effort to explore the structure of belief systems and their postulates on belief stability covers a lot of ground. As both, rivaling structures are supported by the findings in this thesis and partially overlap; they might very well be relatives rather than rivals. By taking the first steps in explaining German decision makers’ behavior in times of crisis and contributing to the meta-debate on belief system structure, this thesis hopes to provide a point of departure for future research in this fascinating field.